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Mountaineer Opry House celebrates 40 years

WANT TO GO?

Mountaineer Opry House 40th Anniversary Celebration

Hosted by Jim and Valerie Gabehart

WHERE: Milton (off exit 28 of I-64)

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

TICKETS: Adults $15, seniors $12, children 12 and under $5.

INFO: 304-743-5749 or www.mountaineeropry.comCHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Larry Stephens remembers when he took over management of the Mountaineer Opry House in Milton, owner Paul King told him one thing.

He said, "I'm going to tell you right now you ain't going to make no money at it, but there's a lot of pleasure in doing this."

Stephens and his wife, Mary, said that's true. The couple has managed Mountaineer Opry House for 21 years. The musical venue, which offers a weekly bluegrass show often featuring some of the biggest names in the genre, is celebrating its 40th anniversary Saturday with an event hosted by local musicians Jim and Valerie Gabehart.

Mary said long before she and her husband were approached about taking over management and operations, they were just fans of the music.

"We used to go all the time," she said.

As she remembered it, Mountaineer Opry was run by King and his wife, with some help from her sister.

"His wife and her sister used to run the concession stand."

But King's wife's health declined. She spent nearly a decade confined to a wheelchair, and when she died in 1991, her husband lost interest in keeping up the business. He asked the Stephens if they'd take it over.

They've been at it ever since.

Larry said neither of them had a lot of experience running a theater. Larry, who retired from the Cabell County sheriff's department in 1990, said he had a little bit of a relatable background. Through the sheriff's department, where he worked for 36 years, he'd helped set up charity events. Mostly what he does is just keep the lights on and make sure the Mountaineer Opry House keeps running.

"Mary had the harder job," he said. "She books all the bands. She had to learn how to do that."

It's not a big operation, Larry said. The venue holds about 500 people, with the average show generating a crowd of about 100, many of them regulars.

"But when we get someone in like Rhonda Vincent or Doyle Lawson, we can fill the place," he added.

Even with space for just 500, Mountaineer Opry House has been able to regularly bring in an impressive schedule of nationally known and award winning performers including Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, The Grascals and Rhonda Vincent and The Rage.

Many of these acts come to perform year after year, which the Stephens are very proud of, but Larry acknowledged there is one performer they wish they could have booked.

"Alison Krauss," he said. "We'd have loved to have brought her in, but she got huge, and our place is too small for her. Ticket prices would be enormous to bring her in to our place."

Larry said they just wouldn't do that. Since it's not about getting rich, the Stephenses try to keep ticket prices affordable. An adult ticket typically runs $15. Seniors pay $12, and children 12 and under are only $5.

Still, even if they can't get Krauss, they've come pretty close to getting most of her band. Members of Union Station have played Mountaineer Opry in their various side projects for years.

After 40 years, 21 of it under his management, Larry said he's not for sure what the future of the Mountaineer Opry House is. He and Mary are in their late 70s. Keeping the Opry House going takes up a lot of time, but they both still love the music.

"Paul King's family still owns it. They're nice people to work with," he said, then added, "Mary and I will fool around with it until they decide they want to do something else with it."

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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